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LETTERS TO EDITOR
---Our Original Los Angeles Review by Laura Hitchcock
"This is so interesting," is the mantra of physicist Richard Feynman's life, a depiction he uses repeatedly in the play QED and, glory be, one that can be applied with jubilation to the play, the production and the performance of Alan Alda as Feynman.
Plays about fascinating people don't always succeed in being dramatic but playwright Peter Parnell and director Gordon Davidson, with Alda, have solved the problem here. Alda, a lifelong science buff, suggested the project to Davidson who brought in Parnell, the adapter of John Irving's The Cider House Rules for the Taper.
Inspired by Feynman's writings and Ralph Leighton's biographical volume Tuva or Bust!, Parnell spearheaded the trio through half a dozen versions until arriving at the two-hander which made its world premiere this month at the Mark Taper Forum. QED stands for Feynman's formula for Quantum Electro Dynamics, describing the interactions involving light and also for Quod Erat Demonstradum (That Proves It).
The play is set in 1986 in Feynman's office at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena on a night in which he's preparing to play the bongo drums in a stage performance; working on a lecture; fielding phone calls from students, visiting Russians, doctors with ominous news about his spreading cancer; and, not surprisingly, enjoying an unscheduled visit from a beautiful girl who shares his passion for physics, music and the joy of living.
In the course of the evening we hear about his first job at Los Alamos, including his reaction to the first atomic bomb detonation and his sideline as a lockpicker to show personnel how lax their security was; his playful spin of a plate in a cafeteria that led to his work on the spin of electrons and the 1965 Nobel Prize; his Lectures on Physics, which he called his most lasting contribution.
Most of all, we get a sense of how much fun it would be to be Feynman, a dynamic Renaissance man whose charisma stems from his fascination with every aspect of life and where the smallest facet can lead.
Parnell's choices illuminate the bright side of Feynman, making the evening feel more like a celebratory tribute than a portrait. That may be why he doesn't escape Act II Sag. However, Parnell deftly weaves his facts into the fabric of Feynman's exuberant, funny, captivating personality and Davidson astutely presents his life as a work in progress. We see the extremes of a man who loved women but whose spirituality is displayed in the letter to his long dead first wife that ends""I don't know your new address. " He is a scientist whose morality ranged from working on the atomic bomb to exposing NASA's disregard of a warning that resulted in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The play ends with Feynman making a decision about an operation which may end or affect the quality of his life -- and then continuing to talk on the phone, eagerly probing the astonishment of living.
Allison Smith, a pretty slip of a girl with a great gutsy belly laugh, plays Miriam, the insistent student. But it's Alda's night. Something of a Renaissance man himself -- with awards for acting, writing and directing -- he's instigated and created the role of a lifetime. He gets the humor, the vitality, the joie de vivre and, above all, Feynman's continued fascination with the universe as a journey.
Reviewed at the Mark Taper Forum on March 21, 2001
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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